Shopping For Large Scale Trains
It would be pleasing to report that after its long association with the introduction and development of large-scale trains that the UK now has a strong, healthy and successful manufacturing presence in this sector of the hobby market.
Sadly, this is not the case as all the major world players are based in the USA, Europe and Japan and it is unlikely that this situation will improve as much of the manufacturing and assembly work is undertaken in China. It means that because of the anticipated low-volume take-up for a British outline model manufacturers will continue to produce designs that reflects the aspirations of their home market.
This has resulted in most of the model trains being based on local prototypes and leaving aside the Thomas the Tank Series (Bachmann) and high-end locomotives produced by Accucraft, Aster Hobby, etc. there are no British outline locomotives currently available in volume production.
There are certainly several enterprising companies in Gt. Britain that continue to fly the flag, but they tend to specialise in certain categories of models, mainly 16 mm gauge and steam driven examples to cater for enthusiasts (possibly a dwindling number) who wish to represent British operating practice.
This is a great pity but reflects the economic realities of life and is unlikely to change.
Thus, when it comes to the world of large-scale model railways sourcing your train paraphernalia can be something of a paradox. There may be a vast choice of new and used locomotives, rolling stock, track, power equipment and scenic features available on the world market but unless you are extremely fortunate in having a dedicated garden railways retailer located within reasonable distance you may be left with no choice but to order online, either from a UK retail outlet or from overseas.
Even where you were to be so blessed to have such a shop nearby most likely it would only be able to carry a fairly limited choice of items in stock and might well specialise in only one manufacturer’s products. This is not to disparage the valuable part played by such retailers in the hobby but more a recognition of the specialised nature of the garden trains’ marketplace and the difficulty faced in running a viable business in what is a niche market.
This local supply issue is, regrettably, likely to add to your setting up and subsequent expansion costs in the long run but is difficult to avoid. There is also the question of not necessarily being able to handle and inspect the item before purchase.
Don’t be too hasty to dismiss second-hand items – for one thing that might be the only way to source a particular locomotive or piece of stock long discontinued by the manufacturer. The term “second-hand” can conjure up different reactions depending on the individual. Some may be immediately put-off by synonymous expressions frequently encountered such as “previously cherished” or “hardly ever used”. In fact, second-hand items may have seen very little use or not even be removed from the box due to the owner acquiring an item that no longer fitted his/her chosen theme or having been ill.
In the USA (bit to a lesser extent in the UK I think) enthusiasts often purchase large-scale trains for display purposes and apart from a little bit of dust (and most likely a lack of lubrication) the items are perfectly acceptable in terms of quality and condition. There are also involuntary or forced disposal sales arising from a deceased persons estate or unforeseen circumstances such as relocation abroad.
Keep an open mind and be prepared for the odd bad purchase where the trains have been “knocked around a bit” or suffered excessive exposure to the elements. Even these can be rebuilt, kit bashed or used as a “dilapidated dressing” on your layout if the price is right.
I you can, meet the seller in person and examine the goods together. See if the seller points out defects spontaneously before you find them, not just the obvious ones like broken drive gear or missing detail parts. Pay particular attention to the wheels of a locomotive for visible signs of wear or a bad paint job and ask for a test run wherever possible to identify any serious problems or poor running characteristics (there is often a test track at exhibitions). Also check the couplings and the material used for the wheels on rolling stock. It can prove expensive to replace these – especially if you have to substitute metal wheels for the plastic variety.
This track is probably not a sound investment.
Ascertaining the condition of track is usually a much more straightforward exercise as defects are relatively easy to detect – particularly where the track has been mistreated or become misshapen. Look down the length of each rail to identify any significant distortion and also run your finger along the top surface to check how smooth it is. Most Code 320 brass tracks have a long life expectancy (30 years is not exceptional) and if anything, it is the pvc tie strips (sleepers) that are most likely to have suffered damage especially where they have had prolonged exposure to strong sunlight. Don’t worry too much about dust, grime or oxidisation. A good wash will rejuvenate most trackwork and even the railheads can generally be brought back to usable condition with a bit of elbow grease.
As with any purchases (both new and used) it is very much a matter of “buyer beware”. Remember that the value of anything is only what a buyer is prepared to pay at a particular pint in time.
Do your homework before venturing into the market place whether in person or via the internet. Have a clear idea of what it is you intend to buy and how much you are prepared to pay for it. If you observe the following guidelines you won’t go far wrong:
Check availability and prices in as many places as you can to get a better idea of what an item should cost (some manufacturers recommended or suggested prices are grossly overstated – Bachmann Trains being one of the worst culprits). Ebay can be a good barometer as to value providing you examine the sold listings rather than the asking prices which are sometime unduly optimistic. (When I ran my G Scale Online website, I was amazed to see sellers demanding second-hand passenger cars at 20% more than I was asking for the brand-new versions!).
Generally, be wary of descriptions that say “rare”, “scarce” “in short supply”, “buy while you can”, “last opportunity”, etc. This may be true but it could just as easily be a ploy to rush you into a purchase before you are able to establish the validity of such statements.
Just as you need to be circumspect when reading reviews such as those on Trip Advisor, where the individual has posted very little feedback, the same degree of scepticism should apply to online auction sites. Take time to inspect customer feedback for the product range you are interested in. There are numerous instances of business sellers, selling thousands of items a year, posing as individuals where there are less onerous consumer protection obligations.
Buy stuff you on impulse, don’t really need or can’t use right away unless there are sound grounds such as the supplier having announced that the product is being discontinued. Even in such a situation there are is usually plenty of stock in the supply pipeline which can extend availability for a year or more.
These precautions will assist you in determining whether the item offers value for money and can often provide the opportunity to negotiate a lower price. I realise that "haggling" can sometimes feel alien to our British culture but if it will save a few pounds to fund other projects is well worth the effort.
Shopping in the United Kingdom
Some enthusiasts, like myself, sell G Scale Models from home as a hobby by mail order using Ebay, Amazon (other auction and selling sites are available) or via their own website to promote sales. This marketing effort is often supplemented by running a sales stand at various Model Railway Shows up and down the country. It is well worth visiting these gatherings as there is usually an interesting array of stock which you can examine up close and question the seller about as to their suitability for your own layout.
At these ‘get-togethers’ there are often special offers available and the lower overheads mean that prices in general can be more competitive than available from a shop. It is not uncommon for these shows to include a space set aside for "Members Sales" where you invariably find some well cared for "second-hand but well looked after" items at bargain prices. This can prove invaluable as the owners are often around to discuss the condition of the item and its suitability for the purpose you have in mind.
I will append details of some of these shows in the UK at the end of the manual although venues and dates frequently change and some years may not be held at all for various reasons so check online first.
This does not mean that sellers with a physical shop presence are not providing a vital service, far from it, and they can often supply products on promotion by having the support of the manufacturers and distributors. It is a good idea to phone retailers beforehand to ask them at which show venues they are expecting to be present at and to ensure that they bring along the items you are specifically interested in buying. This information is often included on their websites.
If you plan to visit a particular shop, especially if it is located some distance from your home, it is always wise to phone ahead to make sure that will be open and that the products you are particularly interested in are actually in stock as few retailers carry large ranges these days and only buy-in from a distributor when they are assured of a firm order.
You can find a list of reputable retail suppliers on the official G Scale Society website. Another useful resource is The UK Model Rail Shop Directory. Most forums will also contain references to particular suppliers who have given good service and I particularly recommend G Scale Central in this regard which goes from strength to strength.
Several Clubs & Organisations also have a web presence including the G Scale Society itself (see above), In the USA MyLargeScale, The North American Model Shop Directory, etc. – I will append a list of such bodies later on) which may feature a Market Section advertising member sales and special offers and these focused sources are well worth monitoring for the odd bargain.
How did we manage before eBay? This well-known auction site is a very popular way of selling Large- Scale Trains and at any one time can be listing thousands of individual items (far more than can be found at even the largest retail shop). These are offered either at a fixed price or inviting bids with the lot going to the highest bidder. Don’t limit your searches to the UK site as occasionally it is possible to buy the identical item from another EU country (less so these days due to the fall in the value of the £ sterling but the pound appears to be on the rise just lately despite the approach of Brexit – perhaps by the time you read this things will be different!).
In the UK several major retailers including Rails of Sheffield (no connection except as a satisfied customer), Gaugemaster and Trainz in the USA regularly list their wares on eBay as well as staging regular auctions for Large Scale Railways (regrettably Trainz appear to have outsourced their own auctions to the DASH website * which I personally believe to be a retrograde step due to the extortionate shipping charges subsequently levied on your purchases if you should happen to live in the UK – a few years ago I was quoted US$134 to ship a small wagon to the UK which increases to US$161 by the time HMRC imposes an additional 20% VAT on the shipping fee in addition to the item purchase value so don’t get caught).
On the Ebay United Kingdom site G Gauge is to be found under “Collectibles” at http://www.ebay.co.uk but elsewhere e.g. eBay USA, the "G Scale Model Railroad" category may often be located under "Toys & Hobbies". Don't ask me why - simply an idiosyncrasy on eBay’s part.
Certainly, other listing websites are available but, in my opinion, few even come close to matching eBay for the wide range and choice of products from all over the world not to mention the ease of purchase and guarantees available to customers. As a seller the benefits are not quite so apparent but that’s another matter altogether.
Incidentally, if you do happen to make a 'wrong' purchase and you are outside the 14 day returns period (which is not always the case if you purchase from a shop) re-selling it on eBay is often the best way of recovering your outlay although you can also use professional auction sites such as Vectis who specialise in sales of model train and railway ephemera. They hold regular auctions covering trains in general and usually a large-scale section as well. More on this later.
Mail Order Purchasing from Overseas
It is also worthwhile occasionally looking on other European eBay sites, especially in the Netherlands, France and Germany where fluctuations in the £: Euro exchange rate can sometimes throw up some bargains (although at the time of writing the fall in the value of the pound versus the euro following the Brexit vote in 2016 has actually made UK prices much more attractive to our continental neighbours than previously).
The terms of trade should be compatible with the UK but are not always enforced as strictly as they are in the UK. For example you will often be required to pay a surcharge if you wish to pay for your item using Paypal which is not allowed by eBay UK. European sellers are also reluctant to accept Paypal payments due to the additional charges levied compared to European banks (see below).
However, most sellers are far more willing to ship to the UK than sellers in the USA and the cost is often less than charged by UK firms to ship in the opposite direction – usually no more than Euros 20 for small-medium sized items and the speed of delivery is acceptable – 48 hours is not uncommon.
Another benefit of intra-EU trading is that there is no tax or import duty to pay at the moment but beware the “hidden charges” such as an added fee for paying by Paypal that would not be permitted on the UK eBay site (on the continent it is far more common to pay by direct bank transfers which are usually free or at a nominal rate rather than Paypal, Worldpay, Applepay, etc.). It is a pity our banks don’t follow this example of European harmony. Come to think of it we never did get to enjoy the promised benefits of the “wine lake” or “cheese mountain” either.
May I offer a few words of caution on the subject of online auctions? As with conventional public auctions It is very important not to get too carried away when bidding on any online auction site. It is not unusual to see certain items attracting bids far in excess of the original or Suggested Retail Price (SRP), especially when the cost of postage, packing and insurance is taken into account.
Always compare the advertised prices with other G Scale retailers before committing to buy. There have been many times when frankly, I have been amazed at the prices fetched on eBay. I recall seeing second-hand passenger cars selling on that site for prices significantly in excess of those available for identical brand-new versions offered on my own dedicated website (alas no more)!
However, it is far more likely that most genuine sellers will be offering surplus (or more likely ‘used’ products sometimes referred to a ‘previously cherished’) items because they are changing scales or for family reasons (such as illness or bereavement disposals) at realistic prices. Skilled ‘eBayers’, if there is such a word, will be aware that It is often worth deliberately mistyping search terms e.g. ‘Backman’ instead of ‘Bachmann’, as this often reveals listings with incorrect descriptions which would otherwise be hidden. As these are less likely to be found by potential buyers the items often go for less than the market rate.
I leave it to your conscience to decide on the ethics of such purchases when a cautionary word of warning to the inexperienced seller might be the proper course to adopt.
Other Auction Sites
Whilst on the subject of auction sales it would be remiss of me not to mention alternative auction sites other than eBay. I will list the ones I am aware of in the UK and US.
UK & Other European Auction Sites:
Many USA Sellers, and increasingly European Sellers, will also list their items on the UK eBay site using the powerful marketing resources provided by eBay. This usually means that they are prepared to ship to the UK but not always as some overseas sellers (mainly in the USA) seem a little uncomfortable at carrying out transactions outside their home country. Providing they are prepared to ship to the
UK always be aware of the shipping and handling costs which can be prohibitive for single items not to mention the UK Import Duties and VAT levied at the port of entry by agents on behalf of her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC). The imposition of these cumulative charges and commissions can total far more than the cost of the original item and what seemed a bargain buy can quickly turn into an expensive purchase.
Courtesy of Google Maps
Vectis Auctions was established as long ago as 1988 and now occupy an auction site in Thornaby of 30,000 square feet with a staff of 29. The company specialise in various toy categories including trains of all gauges and railwayana.
Sales are professionally organised with a full colour catalogue published online prior to each auction. You can also refer to the results of previous sales on their website to see the prices realised.
They currently hold six auctions per month (there is usually a Train auction every month) with approximately 700 lots each day. All auctions are room sales and all are held live on-line reaching a worldwide clientèle. Bidding can also be made via post, fax or telephone.
Sheffield Auction Gallery
Sheffield Auction Gallery is located in the city of the same name and specialise in Antiques & Fine Art Sales. They also hold specialist train collectible sales approx. bi-monthly (every 2 month) and it is possible to make online, telephone or commission bids and/or participate in live auctions via The Saleroom.Com.
Special Auction Services
Based in Newbury, Berkshire Special Auction Services hold occasional Train Sales.
Warwick & Warwick
The well-known auction house of Warwick & Warwick specialise in collectible sales and as their name suggest are based in Warwick, UK. They have a Model Railway Department which organises six (6) sales at regular intervals through the year. Most of the lots are for smaller scale equipment but occasional large-scale trains come up for sale.
Cottees, based in Poole. Dorset and hold regular toy and train auctions occasionally featuring G Gauge models.
British Toy Auctions
Another major player on the auction seen is British Toy Auctions, and are an independent family business based in North Cheshire. They usually include model rail lots in their regular Toys & Models auctions and whilst 00 and H0 models tend to predominate you may come across larger scale items from time to time.
UK Toy Auctions
The North of England seems to be particularly well catered for in the auction stakes with UK Toy Auctions based in Crewe. Once again, the model railway items are interspersed with their general toy sales. At the moment they are disposing of ex-shop stock from Oxford Rail so there may be the odd G Gauge item.
The UK Model Railway Directory
The UK Model Railway Directory is not an auction site but a very useful guide to all manner of model related organisations and topics including G Scale & Narrow-Gauge Suppliers, Garden Railways, Model Shops, Events, Clubs, Layouts, USA Suppliers, and a whole lot more. A cornucopia of model railway related subjects and a very valuable resource.
Despite the name, Barnebys are actually based in Sweden and seem to be a new style of entrepreneurial auctioneer where lots are collated from many countries in Europe and concentrated in one place for convenience. The model railway section is quite extensive and an alternative to the mighty eBay. G Gauge products seem to feature quite prominently with reasonable commission rates and shipping costs. Company appear to have links to Catawiki (see next entry)
Catawiki are said to be the fastest growing company in Europe and certainly seem to have made a promising start since they were founded in 2008 as a website where collectors could manage and keep track of their collections online. Unsurprisingly, the name Catawiki is a combination of the words ‘catalogue’ and ‘wiki’. In 2011, Catawiki began hosting weekly auctions in various categories, including art, antiques, classic cars, watches, jewellery, fashion, books, and stamps. They claim to hold 300 weekly auctions featuring 50,000+ lots and have 14 million visitors each month. Their HQ is based in the Netherlands but they have offices throughout Europe.
I have led a somewhat sheltered life and must confess that I have never previously heard of this company and have no experience to base any opinion on so far but I have signed up to see how everything works.
USA Auction Sites
Mention has already been made of Trainz Auctions, a North American based supplier who hold regular auctions of G Gauge trains in tandem with their fixed price sales. At the time of writing they offer over 97,000 model railroad items from stock of which 232 are in the G Scale Auction and 2,667 are at fixed prices. They have a regular turnover of stock so if you don’t find what you are looking for straight away keep revisiting the site. My only reservation would be the company’s reluctance to disclose shipping costs prior to bidding which could potentially end up being much more than the cost of the item.
This website collates information on numerous auction sites across America in a convenient form and potentially a good place to start your search. Click here for the link.
Toys, Trains & Other Old Stuff
Specialising in vintage toys and models Toys, Trains & Other Old Stuff features quite a lot of old Lionel Railway trains.
One of the better-known USA Model Railroad Auctioneers, Stout Auctions of Williamsport, Indiana aim to be the premier toy train auction company. Most of their sales feature Pre-war and Post-war Lionel toy trains, American Flyer, Marx, Ives, MTH, K-Line and other popular toy trains.
Stout Auctions is also active in field in G scale, HO brass, American Flyer S gauge, and Railroadiana. Frequent sales are conducted.
Maurer's Rail Auctions
Maurer’s Rail (also featured on Auction Zip) are also another popular website based in Spring City, USA and hold regular train auctions.They have been selling trains for over 40 years and deduct a relatively low buyer’s premium of only 12% (2% discount for cash or pre-approved cheques). Each auction features hundreds of lots and you can sometimes view prices realised at previous sales although most of the links had broken when I last checked.
Consumer Protection for Online Purchases
Unless you are fortunate to have a large-scale model train retailer close to where you live or work the chances are that you will be reliant on buying my mail order (Ebay is really a variant of this). The main draw-back is that you cannot physically see or handle the actual product and due to the large size and heavy weight of most G Scale items the postage charges incurred can be a major deterrent, especially if you subsequently choose to return them which you are quite entitled to do, for whatever reason within 14 days, as provided for under the Consumer Contract Regulations although you may still have to return them at your own cost if they are not actually faulty.
In this respect buying online by mail order direct from a business seller is theoretically safer than purchasing the same item across the counter in a shop but with retailers closing their doors due to the prevailing adverse trading conditions in 2018/2019 one can never be entirely sure.
Most retailers have a reputation to preserve and are invariably honest and will observe the current legislation which is designed to give consumers more confidence when buying goods and services by mail order where there is no face to face contact with the seller or means of examining the product, and ensure that all traders selling at a distance in the normal course of their business meet certain basic requirements.
In essence this customer focused legislation allows the buyer up to 14 days to examine any goods obtained by mail order and return them to the seller (undamaged of course) for a full refund ‘for any reason whatsoever’. This is not the case if you change your mind after having purchased the same item from a shop and whilst many retailers do now allow for returns within a specified period this is by no means universal or a legal requirement.
I should point out that this right is in addition to your right to return faulty or damaged goods or those which do not conform to the description given and/or fail to prove of satisfactory quality. Essentially this provides a unique 14 day “cooling off period” (which is not normally available if you buy over the counter in the high street) for the buyer to change their mind about a purchase. On eBay you may find some sellers offering potential customers up to a month to exercise this right.
All retailers are required to abide by these Regulations (in theory within the European Union) and you will generally find that their websites or listings draw attention to your statutory rights (though not always as some retailers appear to be ignorant of their obligations a bit like those who insist that faulty goods must be returned to the manufacturer when the sales contract is invariably with the retailer who is personally obliged to sort out the problem).
Sourcing from Abroad
Some people are naturally wary about purchasing from abroad but it is generally a lot safer than you might imagine. Just remember that if an offer looks “too good to be true” then it probably is and should be treated with extreme care. I must say that having completed several hundred purchases abroad, notably from the USA, France, Germany and the Netherlands and I have only once run into trouble when the goods I ordered and paid for did not arrive. Neither eBay nor I were able to contact the seller who had pocketed my US$130 but I suspect that he/she may possibly have died in the intervening period.
If you buy via eBay there are certain protection methods in place where payments via Paypal can be refunded in the event that goods do not arrive or are not as described. In fact in my experience Paypal invariably side with the Buyer in any dispute so you can purchase on the auction site with some assurance.
Fortunately, the criminal community do not appear to have moved into the faking of LGB locomotives – yet!
Needless to say. The foregoing consumer protection rights do not absolve you from taking all reasonable precautions such as paying for purchases over £100 with a credit card where you also have a measure of legal protection whereby you can normally claim from the credit card company if things go wrong.
The principle reason why I started importing goods from abroad myself was price. We are not known as “Rip-off Britain” without good reason and in my view, we have become far too complacent about accepting high prices than are charged elsewhere in the world. This is an old hobby-horse of mine so forgive me.
In my experience the long-standing maxim that if an item costs £100 in the UK it can usually be obtained from parts of Europe for Euro 100 and only US$100 from across the pond is often true. Variations in exchange rates (especially now that the pound sterling is much weaker after the BREXIT vote) can sometimes affect this adage but it often remains true irrespective of the prevailing exchange rates. Why this should be is difficult to understand.
To be fair, there are good reasons why goods are cheaper in the United States (large population, huge market, greater competition, lower taxes, etc.) but they also incur much higher delivery costs due to sheer size of the country which one would think should offset some of these factors.
Until such time as UK customers insist on better value for their hard-earned money things are unlikely to improve.
Whatever the reason, there is no law that says you cannot benefit from the more advantageous prices to be obtained from overseas. Yes, there can be warranty complications (a limited 3 month warranty period is the norm in North America and the high return shipping charges are certainly a deterrent) but unless the item you are purchasing involves highly complex technology the saving is often worth the risk.
In recent years, however, any potential saving has been whittled away by the substantial upsurge in shipping charges across the Atlantic compounded by the 20% VAT rate subsequently being charged by HMRC on entry of the goods to the UK and the handling charges imposed by shipping agents for processing these transactions.
The second most important reason for buying from abroad is the wider choice of brands and models available from a particular supplier. For example, Bachmann Europe (Bachmann’s authorised distributor in the UK) does not always carry the full range of G Scale products and regularly runs out of stocks of the products they do carry. This is not generally the case in the USA where some larger retailers tend to hold over 4,500 individual stock items across the various scales and if you cannot obtain from one there is nearly always an alternative source ready to do business.
You have probably heard of LGB, Bachmann, Aristo-craft, USA Trains and PIKO but if you are looking for G Scale products from such firms as Delton, Hartland, Kiss, Accucraft, Llagas Creek, Sunset Valley Railroad, Kadee, Train-Li-USA, Bridgeworks or Split-Jaw you discover that you are faced with extremely limited buying options in the UK.
For sources of supply in the USA it is a good idea to subscribe to the Garden Railways quarterly magazine published by Kalmbach Publishing Co. based in the USA and mentioned elsewhere on this site. This informative publication, which I must confess to be my favourite model train magazine, has been the world’s largest circulation magazine about the hobby of running large-scale trains outdoors since 1984. It used to be published every two months until 2019 when cost increases compelled Kalmbach to reduce the number of copies to only 4 each year which is disappointing.
Each issue is packed with a wealth of hobby news, product reviews, how-to articles, featured railroads, scale drawings, etc. together with a lot of specialist advertising that can point you in the right direction. They also publish a series of informative guides on all aspects of Large-Scale Railway Modelling which you can download. They are usually on “Special Offer” at least once a year (sometimes at half-price).
A subscription also entitles you to search their vast database of articles for topics of particular interest, either online or by purchasing a DVD called "The Complete Collection" which features digital versions of each issue dating back as far as 1984, along with bonus issues of it's predecessor and full-scale drawings. A sound investment especially if you take advantage of their frequent sales.
The magazine can also now also be accessed in digital form which is now the trend for many subscription periodicals. This has the advantage of being easily archivable and searchable saving your hours of going through the annual indexes although I personally find the magazine more difficult to read on a screen and prefer a printed copy to keep.
Please subscribe if you can to keep the hobby alive.
Also look out for professionally produced videos on YouTube from Bachmann, Garden Trains (alas no more), Trainworld and Large Scale Online which cover US layouts and new product releases in considerable depth.
Costs of Importing
As previously highlighted in this chapter don’t forget that when you purchase goods from abroad (other than from the EU) you will not only incur international shipping charges (which can be incredibly high – sometime as much or more than the actual cost of the item itself) but you will also be liable for Import Duty, VAT, possibly Customs Duties, and Handling or Processing Charges levied by shipping agents.
Import Duty is occasionally levied at around 4.5% whilst VAT is currently 20% just like many other “luxuries”. You also need to be aware that VAT is levied on the total value of the consignment i.e. the value of the item(s); any local taxes at source; the postage and packing, insurance and the applicable duty (not just the initial purchase cost). This can come as a nasty shock if you have not been aware of it beforehand.
One benefit of intra-EU (and EEC) trading is that there is normally no tax or import duty to pay for personal use but beware the “hidden charges” such as a premium for paying by Paypal that would not be permitted on the UK Ebay site (on the continent it is far more common to pay by direct bank transfers which are usually free or at a nominal rate) and less so by credit card. Be aware that should the UK eventually leave the EU this situation could change dramatically.
Whoever is handling the physical importation into the UK (Post Office, UPS, FedEx, etc.) usually settles the Duty and VAT on your behalf for a minimum fee which can currently range from around £8 Post Office & Parcelforce, £12.50 FedEx and £18 UPS and DHL, and possibly even more if the item is oversized or of high value.
Some agencies, like Parcelforce levy their charges on each parcel whilst other (notably UPS and FedEx) only do so on the entire consignment which can prove a valuable saving where a large number of parcels are involved. It is always a good idea to ascertain the current charge at the time as rates are always subject to change.
This fee will be added when they collect these amounts from you on or before delivery (although FedEx often send an invoice after the event). Be warned if you are expecting a shipment from the United States from DHL as they now appear to insist on cash on delivery and will not accept cheques or credit cards. Not so long ago I had to frantically scrabble around to find £136 and the driver did not even have a float to provide change. It seems that some companies still have a long way to go to reach the 20th Century never mind the 21st but perhaps things have changed!
Sourcing on the Cheap
I had contemplated putting this advice at the forefront of this module but then decided to focus on the conventional ways for sourcing large-scale trains first. However, if you don’t have much money but would still like to participate in the world’s most enjoyable hobby there are a few methods of obtaining equipment at little or no cost.
Asking Friends or Relatives
Your first port of call in the search for garden railway equipment is to approach your friends or elderly relatives to see if they have any surplus stuff lying around that might have been relegated to the loft or garage through lack of interest. Admittedly, the chances of finding a supply of large-scale gear are considerably less than those for smaller scale model railways but you never know. You might just unearth a treasure-trove of hidden gems just waiting to be given a new lease of life.
It may well be that the items were purchased new with the intention of building a layout but it never got built so there is every likelihood that the items have been well looked after and still in relatively good condition.
If the treasure trove proves to be for a smaller scale or not compatible with the layout you have in mind consider selling the items and using the funds to realise your model layout.
This approach may prove mutually beneficial as by combining your efforts you may still be able to realise the dream layout together.
Jumble Sales & Boot Fairs
Another potential source of supply are the regular jumble sales and boot fairs held across the country most weekends. These are so popular that the prospects of finding suitable trains are not as good as they once were but if you get there early enough and carry out a comprehensive recce you might come across someone downsizing or disposing of childhood toys.
When I was modelling in European HO scale many years ago I came across a wooden box piled with Fleischmann Nickel Silver Pro-Track in very good condition and was able to acquire same for the princely sum of only £4. It is still the best bargain I ever secured and I suspect it was more to do with the seller wanting the track to go to a good home than my prescient negotiating skills.
Charity Shops tend to fall into the same category as jumble sales only located in more permanent and salubrious premises. Nevertheless, they constitute a fertile place to search for trains and are conveniently located in virtually every street in the land. This proliferation has led to a much higher degree of professionalism to be found in those running the shops. They “know their onions” as we used to say (an expression rarely heard today Note 1 ) and invariably have a good idea as to the value of their conventional stock but less so on large-scale trains which are a little outside their normal field of expertise.
The origins of this expression are not clear and whilst there were some very distinguished experts called ‘Onions’ around in the late 19th century when it appears to have been coined this was probably just coincidence. It is possible that the saying actually originated in print in the USA in 1920’s which was apparently a breeding ground for ‘wacky phrases’.
Local Classified Ads
Despite the demise of many local evening papers there are still many free local publications (e.g. Friday Ads) which occasionally list model railway equipment and are worth perusing just in case.
Another, admittedly less common practice, is to engage in a group purchase in order to deal directly with the manufacturer or distributor and secure preferential terms. I once took part in an initiative by a Netherlands Model Railway Club to source a large number of passenger cars in special liveries direct from China. These were scheduled on the production line and delivered several months later after the order was placed but at around 50% off the prevailing retail price. You would probably need to organise such a buying co-operative through your local G Scale Society Branch, possibly in conjunction with other branches and it does rely on like-minded members all being willing to purchase the same or similar products but it is always worth trying,
I think that just about covers the topic without going into exhaustive check-lists and action points. Most buying is a matter of common sense and a little healthy hesitancy – don’t be persuaded to enter into a deal against your better judgement. There will invariably be another buying opportunity just around the corner.